Tickle Salon

Tickle Salon is an installation that consists of three main parts: A robot attached to the ceiling, a bed standing on the floor and a human being lying on the bed.
The robot uses a suspended probe to grope and feel the surface underneath. Gradually, the robot develops an image of the body lying on the bed. Using its imagination, the robot is able to execute sensitive movements over the skin surface. It aims to be smart, smooth and unpredictable.

In a room, a human being is lying on a bed. In between the bed and the ceiling, a suspended feeler is attached to four threads. The feeler can be moved around freely by varying the length of the four threads. This is achieved by computer controlled stepper motors that wind and unwind the treads. The feeler can reach any position in three-dimensional space, in between the bed and the ceiling. At each moment in time, the feeler knows exactly where it is.

When the feeler touches the skin surface, the collision causes a tension loss in one or more threads. This tension change, is detected by sensors. The movement stops and the coordinates of the collision position at the skin surface are stored in a virtual map of that space, inside the computer.

Subsequently, the robot continues its exploration, using the formerly gathered information in its motion behaviour. By doing so, it gently strokes the skin, while at the same time, the robot creates and updates its imagining of the shape of that body. A monitor in front of the bed, displays current images of the discovered regions.
In this work the concept of "feeling" is ambiguous: on the one hand there is the feeling of the person who experiences the stimulation of the skin, and on the other is the feeling of the robot whose only sense is a feeler and which tries to form a spatial image of the body by means of touch.

review text by Leigh Anderson for Popular Science, November 2003

text fragment of the book Interactive Art and Embodiment, author Nathaniel Stern, publisher Gylphi

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